A blog reader recently got in touch to say they wanted to send me a jumper as a thank you. Not something that has happened before. It arrived last week, and it’s a merino wool number from Sheep Inc. I’m wearing it right now and it’s lovely. If I’d known about Sheep Inc before, I’d have written about them free jumper or not, because what they’re doing is rather special.
Sheep Inc claims to be the first carbon negative fashion brand, something they have acheived by keeping carbon emissions low and offsetting the remainder several times over. The choice of merino wool is important, because it is an entirely natural and organic material. It is stain and odour resistant, which means it needs less washing. And when you do wash it, it needs to be washed in cold water and left to dry flat. The lifetime energy use for this particular jumper will be very low.
It’s designed to last a very long time – “your sweater is made to last a lifetime” says the instruction card. But when it is worn out, it can be either sent back to them or put into a compost bin because it’s entirely biodegradeable.
Sheep Inc also believe in full transparency. I’ve seen others do this, Rapanui’s product journeys being a notable example. Sheep Inc have done it through a little yellow tag on the jumper, made of bio-plastic and designed to mimic the tags that sheep wear in their ears. When I hover my phone over it, it loads up the full detail of the jumper.
It tells me that it was manufactured in Spain by a family business called Parrilu’s, on a Japanese Shima Seiki knitting machine on the 3rd of July this year. Someone called Cris did the handfinishing. The wool was processed two months earlier by a firm called Zegna Baruffa in Northern Italy, in a mill powered by 100% renewable energy.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but you get the idea. The product is traceable all the way back to the farms in New Zealand, where the wool was sourced in the spring of 2018. Sheep Inc even pair each jumper with an actual sheep, and you can name it. Mine is called Jose (Mourinho/Merino you see, and because all sheep are Tottenham fans). It is currently in Andy’s Gully in Middlehurst and weighs 32kg.
The adopt a sheep feature is fun mostly, but it’s also a useful reminder that everything we own comes from somewhere real. It’s easy for the real people and places behind our clothes to be obscured in the long supply chains of the fashion industry.
On the subject of supply chains, it’s worth asking what the carbon footprint might be of a jumper that has gone from New Zealand to China to Italy to Spain to me in Luton. And helpfully, my jumper’s full account of itself also includes its carbon footprint. Transport is actually a relatively small component of that total of 30.85 kg, which Sheep Inc will offset ten times through their biodiversity and reforestation projects.
Needless to say, this isn’t an approach that will be coming to the high street any time soon. But like Fairphone did with the mobile handset, it shows what might be possible for companies committed to full accountability.
- Sheep Inc’s sustainability advisor is Mark Maslin, author of The Human Planet. He is interviewed alongside the company’s founder here.